[permaculture] The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?

Lawrence F. London, Jr. venaurafarm at bellsouth.net
Thu Jan 27 22:44:18 EST 2011

The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?

     * By Ronnie Cummins
       Organic Consumers Association, Jan 27, 2011
       Straight to the Source

"The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other
GE crops as well. True coexistence is a must."   -  Whole Foods Market,
Jan. 21, 2011

In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto's Genetically
Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation's 25,000 organic
farms and ranches, America's organic consumers and producers are facing
betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by
Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided
it's time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies
have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass
commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto's controversial Roundup
Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for
"coexistence" with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack.

In a cleverly worded, but profoundly misleading email sent to its
customers last week, Whole Foods Market, while proclaiming their support
for organics and "seed purity," gave the green light to USDA bureaucrats
to approve the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically
engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa.  Beyond the regulatory
euphemism of "conditional deregulation," this means that WFM and their
colleagues are willing to go along with the massive planting of a
chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa; guaranteed to
spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to
contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to
massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil
food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce
Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly
herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa
across the U.S.

In exchange for allowing Monsanto's premeditated pollution of the
alfalfa gene pool, WFM wants "compensation." In exchange for a new
assault on farmworkers and rural communities (a recent large-scale
Swedish study found that spraying Roundup doubles farm workers' and
rural residents' risk of getting cancer), WFM expects the pro-biotech
USDA to begin to regulate rather than cheerlead for Monsanto. In payment
for a new broad spectrum attack on the soil's crucial ability to provide
nutrition for food crops and to sequester dangerous greenhouse gases
(recent studies show that Roundup devastates essential soil
microorganisms that provide plant nutrition and sequester
climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases), WFM wants the Biotech Bully of
St. Louis to agree to pay "compensation" (i.e. hush money) to farmers
"for any losses related to the contamination of his crop."

In its email of Jan. 21, 2011 WFM calls for "public oversight by the
USDA rather than reliance on the biotechnology industry," even though
WFM knows full well that federal regulations on Genetically Modified
Organisms (GMOs) do not require pre-market safety testing, nor labeling;
and that even federal judges have repeatedly ruled that so-called
government "oversight" of Frankencrops such as Monsanto's sugar beets
and alfalfa is basically a farce. At the end of its email, WFM admits
that its surrender to Monsanto is permanent: "The policy set for GE
alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well  True
coexistence is a must."

Why Is Organic Inc. Surrendering?

According to informed sources, the CEOs of WFM and Stonyfield are
personal friends of former Iowa governor, now USDA Secretary, Tom
Vilsack, and in fact made financial contributions to Vilsack's previous
electoral campaigns. Vilsack was hailed as "Governor of the Year" in
2001 by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and traveled in a
Monsanto corporate jet on the campaign trail. Perhaps even more
fundamental to Organic Inc.'s abject surrender is the fact that the
organic elite has become more and more isolated from the concerns and
passions of organic consumers and locavores. The Organic Inc. CEOs are
tired of activist pressure, boycotts, and petitions. Several of them
have told me this to my face. They apparently believe that the battle
against GMOs has been lost, and that it's time to reach for the
consolation prize.  The consolation prize they seek is a so-called
"coexistence" between the biotech Behemoth and the organic community
that will lull the public to sleep and greenwash the unpleasant fact
that Monsanto's unlabeled and unregulated genetically engineered crops
are now spreading their toxic genes on 1/3 of U.S. (and 1/10 of global)
crop land.

WFM and most of the largest organic companies have deliberately
separated themselves from anti-GMO efforts and cut off all funding to
campaigns working to label or ban GMOs. The so-called Non-GMO Project,
funded by Whole Foods and giant wholesaler United Natural Foods (UNFI)
is basically a greenwashing effort (although the 100% organic companies
involved in this project seem to be operating in good faith) to show
that certified organic foods are basically free from GMOs (we already
know this since GMOs are banned in organic production), while failing to
focus on so-called "natural" foods, which constitute most of WFM and
UNFI's sales and are routinely contaminated with GMOs.

 From their "business as usual" perspective, successful lawsuits against
GMOs filed by public interest groups such as the Center for Food Safety;
or noisy attacks on Monsanto by groups like the Organic Consumers
Association, create bad publicity, rattle their big customers such as
Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, Costco, Supervalu, Publix and Safeway; and
remind consumers that organic crops and foods such as corn, soybeans,
and canola are slowly but surely becoming contaminated by Monsanto's GMOs.

Whole Food's Dirty Little Secret: Most of the So-Called "Natural"
Processed Foods and Animal Products They Sell Are Contaminated with GMOs

The main reason, however, why Whole Foods is pleading for coexistence
with Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and the rest of the biotech
bullies, is that they desperately want the controversy surrounding
genetically engineered foods and crops to go away. Why? Because they
know, just as we do, that 2/3 of WFM's $9 billion annual sales is
derived from so-called "natural" processed foods and animal products
that are contaminated with GMOs. We and our allies have tested their
so-called "natural" products (no doubt WFM's lab has too) containing
non-organic corn and soy, and guess what: they're all contaminated with
GMOs, in contrast to their certified organic products, which are
basically free of GMOs, or else contain barely detectable trace amounts.

Approximately 2/3 of the products sold by Whole Foods Market and their
main distributor, United Natural Foods (UNFI) are not certified organic,
but rather are conventional (chemical-intensive and GMO-tainted) foods
and products disguised as "natural."

Unprecedented wholesale and retail control of the organic marketplace by
UNFI and Whole Foods, employing a business model of selling twice as
much so-called "natural" food as certified organic food, coupled with
the takeover of many organic companies by multinational food
corporations such as Dean Foods, threatens the growth of the organic

Covering Up GMO Contamination: Perpetrating "Natural" Fraud

Many well-meaning consumers are confused about the difference between
conventional products marketed as "natural," and those
nutritionally/environmentally superior and climate-friendly products
that are "certified organic."

Retail stores like WFM and wholesale distributors like UNFI have failed
to educate their customers about the qualitative difference between
natural and certified organic, conveniently glossing over the fact that
nearly all of the processed "natural" foods and products they sell
contain GMOs, or else come from a "natural" supply chain where animals
are force-fed GMO grains in factory farms or Confined Animal Feeding
Operations (CAFOs).

A troubling trend in organics today is the calculated shift on the part
of certain large formerly organic brands from certified organic
ingredients and products to so-called "natural" ingredients. With the
exception of the "grass-fed and grass-finished" meat sector, most
"natural" meat, dairy, and eggs are coming from animals reared on GMO
grains and drugs, and confined, entirely, or for a good portion of their
lives, in CAFOs.

Whole Foods and UNFI are maximizing their profits by selling
quasi-natural products at premium organic prices. Organic consumers are
increasingly left without certified organic choices while genuine
organic farmers and ranchers continue to lose market share to "natural"
imposters. It's no wonder that less than 1% of American farmland is
certified organic, while well-intentioned but misled consumers have
boosted organic and "natural" purchases to $80 billion
annually-approximately 12% of all grocery store sales.

The Solution: Truth-in-Labeling Will Enable Consumers to Drive So-Called
"Natural" GMO and CAFO-Tainted Foods Off the Market

There can be no such thing as "coexistence" with a reckless industry
that undermines public health, destroys biodiversity, damages the
environment, tortures and poisons animals, destabilizes the climate, and
economically devastates the world's 1.5 billion seed-saving small
farmers.  There is no such thing as coexistence between GMOs and
organics in the European Union. Why? Because in the EU there are almost
no GMO crops under cultivation, nor GM consumer food products on
supermarket shelves. And why is this? Because under EU law, all foods
containing GMOs or GMO ingredients must be labeled. Consumers have the
freedom to choose or not to choose GMOs; while farmers, food processors,
and retailers have (at least legally) the right to lace foods with GMOs,
as long as they are safety-tested and labeled. Of course the EU food
industry understands that consumers, for the most part, do not want to
purchase or consume GE foods. European farmers and food companies, even
junk food purveyors like McDonald's and Wal-Mart, understand quite well
the concept expressed by a Monsanto executive when GMOs first came on
the market: "If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might
as well put a skull and crossbones on it."

The biotech industry and Organic Inc. are supremely conscious of the
fact that North American consumers, like their European counterparts,
are wary and suspicious of GMO foods. Even without a PhD, consumers
understand you don't want your food safety or environmental
sustainability decisions to be made by out-of-control chemical companies
like Monsanto, Dow, or Dupont - the same people who brought you toxic
pesticides, Agent Orange, PCBs, and now global warming. Industry leaders
are acutely aware of the fact that every single industry or government
poll over the last 16 years has shown that 85-95% of American consumers
want mandatory labels on GMO foods. Why? So that we can avoid buying
them. GMO foods have absolutely no benefits for consumers or the
environment, only hazards. This is why Monsanto and their friends in the
Bush, Clinton, and Obama administrations have prevented consumer GMO
truth-in-labeling laws from getting a public discussion in Congress.

Although Congressman Dennis Kucinich (Democrat, Ohio) recently
introduced a bill in Congress calling for mandatory labeling and safety
testing for GMOs, don't hold your breath for Congress to take a stand
for truth-in-labeling and consumers' right to know what's in their food.
Especially since the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the so-called
"Citizens United" case gave big corporations and billionaires the right
to spend unlimited amounts of money (and remain anonymous, as they do
so) to buy media coverage and elections, our chances of passing federal
GMO labeling laws against the wishes of Monsanto and Food Inc. are all
but non-existent. Perfectly dramatizing the "Revolving Door" between
Monsanto and the Federal Government, Supreme Court Justice Clarence
Thomas, formerly chief counsel for Monsanto, delivered one of the
decisive votes in the Citizens United case, in effect giving Monsanto
and other biotech bullies the right to buy the votes it needs in the
U.S. Congress.

With big money controlling Congress and the media, we have little choice
but to shift our focus and go local. We've got to concentrate our forces
where our leverage and power lie, in the marketplace, at the retail
level; pressuring retail food stores to voluntarily label their
products; while on the legislative front we must organize a broad
coalition to pass mandatory GMO (and CAFO) labeling laws, at the city,
county, and state levels.

The Organic Consumers Association, joined by our consumer, farmer,
environmental, and labor allies, has just launched a nationwide
Truth-in-Labeling campaign to stop Monsanto and the Biotech Bullies from
force-feeding unlabeled GMOs to animals and humans.

Utilizing scientific data, legal precedent, and consumer power the OCA
and our local coalitions will educate and mobilize at the grassroots
level to pressure giant supermarket chains (Wal-Mart, Kroger, Costco,
Safeway, Supervalu, and Publix) and natural food retailers such as Whole
Foods and Trader Joe's to voluntarily implement "truth-in-labeling"
practices for GMOs and CAFO products; while simultaneously organizing a
critical mass to pass mandatory local and state truth-in-labeling
ordinances - similar to labeling laws already in effect for country of
origin, irradiated food, allergens, and carcinogens. If local and state
government bodies refuse to take action, wherever possible we must
attempt to gather sufficient petition signatures and place these
truth-in-labeling initiatives directly on the ballot in 2011 or 2012. If
you're interesting in helping organize or coordinate a Millions Against
Monsanto and Factory Farms Truth-in-Labeling campaign in your local
community, sign up here: http://organicconsumers.org/oca-volunteer/

To pressure Whole Foods Market and the nation's largest supermarket
chains to voluntarily adopt truth-in-labeling practices sign here, and
circulate this petition widely:

And please stay tuned to Organic Bytes for the latest developments in
our campaigns.

Power to the People! Not the Corporations!

Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association

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